Florida death sentence elicits outrage in Spain
Spaniards have raised $150,000 to pay for the Death Row appeal of Pablo
Ibar, who was convicted of a 1994 triple murder in Miramar.
BY NOAH BIERMAN, Miami Herald
When George W. Bush traveled oversees for his first major diplomatic
mission two years ago, Spaniards held vigils in the streets for three men
on Florida's Death Row.
This year, Gov. Jeb Bush had a similar experience in Spain. The regional
premier of Madrid interrupted an economics discussion to plead the case of
one of those men, Pablo Ibar, convicted in a notorious 1994 triple murder
As Ibar's case reaches the Florida Supreme Court next month, eight Spanish
senators will visit Ibar on Death Row and then watch his lawyer argue in
Spanish citizens have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for
Florida Death Row defenses, including $150,000 for Ibar's appeal. Florida
has become the focus of their passionate opposition to the death penalty.
''We had the death penalty during the Franco regime and probably, there is
something in the back of our heads that the death penalty was used as an
instrument,'' said Javier Vallaure, the consul general of Spain in Coral
Gables. Francisco Franco Bahamonde, an authoritarian general, ruled Spain
for 36 years after seizing power in a civil war.
Vallaure recites dates and times and significant events in all three
Florida cases. He has been to Death Row, near Starke, many times.
He holds up three fingers as he explains how many Spaniards were on
Florida's Death Row when he took his post in 2000.
The only other Spaniard facing execution at the time lived in Yemen and
his was delayed after intervention from Spain's King Juan Carlos.
One of the Florida men, Joaquin Jose Martinez, has since been freed and
returned to Spain.
The second, elderly Broward convict Julio Mora, who killed Clarence
Rudolph and pregnant attorney Karen Starr Marx during a 1994 court
deposition, had his sentence reduced to life.
The fervor of Spanish opposition, and the whole of Europe, is in stark
contrast to the American point of view -- where politicians often consider
opposition to capital punishment a career-killer. The European Union won't
grant membership to countries that execute prisoners.
''It's considered an accomplishment of a higher degree of civilization,''
said Joaquin Roy, a Barcelona native who directs the University of Miami's
European Union Center. ``Europe went through too much anguish and war and
Joaquin Martinez, the accused killer of a pair of 26-year-old Tampa
lovers, Doug Lawson and Sherrie McCoy, was the first Spaniard to face
execution anywhere, since Franco died in 1975 and Spain abolished the
death penalty. Martinez's case drew donations and constant front-page
attention in Spain.
Then something remarkable happened. Miami lawyer Peter Raben won Martinez
a new trial in the Supreme Court in 2000 and then won an acquittal from a
jury in 2001. Raben was flown to Madrid by a top-rated news program. He
had bodyguards and autograph-seekers. He addressed Congress.
''I fly back to Miami and I'm persona non grata,'' he joked.
MURDERS ON TAPE
The success of that case helped Ibar, who was born in South Florida to a
Spanish jai-alai player and became a Spanish citizen after his 2000
conviction. (He speaks Spanish with his mother's Cuban accent, according
His 1994 murders were captured on a surveillance camera mounted in the
home of Casimir Sucharski, one of the victims. The chilling
black-and-white video also shows the final 22 minutes in the lives of
victims Marie Rogers and Sharon Anderson, both 25. Sucharski was
repeatedly beaten with a gun.
The case against Ibar depended largely on that grainy video, shot from the
corner of the room. Several witnesses identified him as the man in the
video and jurors had a chance to make their own comparisons.
Circumstantial evidence also connected him, but no physical evidence.
Only after Ibar's conviction did his father decide it was time to tell the
family in Spain what had happened.
During a Christmas 2000 visit to Spain's Basque region, Candido Ibar
explained. And he said he needed to pay for a lawyer.
The appeal was well-timed because Martinez's case was all over the news
Spaniards were watching the American justice system and it appeared a man
had been put on Death Row in error.
The Ibar family also had a bit of its own celebrity. Candido Ibar had a
deceased brother, Jose ''Urtain'' Manuel, a former European champion boxer.
A reporter from a popular Basque television program traveled to Florida to
document Ibar's case.
Most of the subsequent attention has centered in the Basque region,
culturally distant from the major hubs. But it has spread through
websites, television and newspapers. The Ibars hired Raben.
Tanya Ibar says her husband gets 10 to 15 letters a day. ''Unfortunately,
down here, in order to have a fair trial or even have a trial that's
winnable, you have to be able to hire somebody that's one of the best,''
None of this attention has set well with the victims' families. ''I think
it's disgusting and it's under very false pretenses,'' said Barbara
Anderson-Jones, whose daughter Sharon was killed. ``You can take one look
at the video and you can see it's him.''
Deborah Anderson-Vance, just 11 months younger than her sister Sharon,
looks up the Spanish articles on the Internet once a month.
''Does it make me angry? Yes. But am I taking anything personal by it? I
think they're being politically misguided,'' Anderson-Vance said.
The Spanish press has never called them. They believe Raben's and Tanya
Ibar's accounts of the case have falsely linked Ibar's innocence claim to
Martinez's. Prosecutor Chuck Morton talks about the 22 minutes of torture
captured on the video and says this case, as well as any, illustrates the
type of circumstance that justifies execution.
If Ibar loses his appeals, Spanish officials will refocus their efforts on
Jeb Bush. ''The governor will always listen to input from people he meets
as he travels around the state or overseas,'' said spokeswoman Alia Faraj.
``But as governor of Florida, he has the constitutional duty to uphold the
laws of our state.''